About 35 years ago, Earth came as close as it’s ever come to communicating with extraterrestrials.
At 11:16 p.m. eastern time on Aug. 15, 1977, the Big Ear radio telescope in Ohio detected a narrow band radio transmission from what appeared to be outer space. Jerry R. Ehman discovered the signal a few days later, while examining computer printouts from the telescope.
There it was, a combination of six letters and numbers: “6EQUJ5.”
To most, the output would’ve been gibberish. But Ehman had written much of the software. To him, the letters and numbers spelled out a series of signal-to-noise ratios — the same ratios scientists expected to see if an alien culture, somewhere in the vastness of space, aimed a radio transmission at Earth. It could, Ehman knew, be first contact.
He scrawled a single word in the margin beside the output code: “Wow!” And thereafter, the transmission became known as the Wow! signal.
What the signal represents is ambiguous. Big Ear never detected the signal again, despite repeated attempts. Analysis indicated the signal probably lasted no longer than 150 seconds.
Was it really an alien transmission, or was it something more prosaic — a coded transmission from a satellite or spacecraft, a ground-based signal somehow picked up by the telescope, planetary noise or a one-time quirk, like a terrestrial radio transmission that had bounced off of a piece of space junk for a couple minutes? If it was alien, why didn’t it repeat? Were the aliens doing like Big Ear and searching an ever-changing grid? Could the telescope have happened upon it just before the transmission turned to focus on a different slice of space?
What is sure is that the signal was 30 times stronger than any other detected before or since by SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.
“To this day it remains unexplained,” according to a news release from the National Geographic Channel, “and more importantly, unanswered. But if the Wow! signal really was a cosmic ‘tweet’ from our nearest neighbors, we think it’s high time we send an @reply.”
From 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. central time on June 29, National Geographic will collect tweets that bear the hash tag #ChasingUFOs. On Aug. 15, the tweets and videos from earthly notables will be packaged together and transmitted into space by the Arecibo Observatory, a massive radio telescope in Puerto Rico.
The effort ties in with National Geographic’s new television series, “Chasing UFOs,” which looks really cheesy (see videos below). But even if it’s a publicity stunt, it’s kind of cool to send a tweet into outer space.
For more information, go online to www.thewowreply.com.
About the video (courtesy of NASA):
Launched on Feb. 11, 2010, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed to study the sun. During its five-year mission, it will examine the sun’s atmosphere, magnetic field and also provide a better understanding of the role the sun plays in Earth’s atmospheric chemistry and climate. SDO provides images with resolution 8 times better than high-definition television and returns more than a terabyte of data each day.
On June 5 2012, SDO collected images of the rarest predictable solar event–the transit of Venus across the face of the sun. This event happens in pairs eight years apart that are separated from each other by 105 or 121 years. The last transit was in 2004 and the next will not happen until 2117.
The videos and images displayed here are constructed from several wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light and a portion of the visible spectrum. The red colored sun is the 304 angstrom ultraviolet, the golden colored sun is 171 angstrom, the magenta sun is 1700 angstrom, and the orange sun is filtered visible light. 304 and 171 show the atmosphere of the sun, which does not appear in the visible part of the spectrum.
This is the most amazing photo of the Venus transit that I’ve seen so far. It’s an extreme ultraviolet image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Absolutely beautiful.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (not standing on it, as the rest of us are), you know that a rare astronomical event is drawing near.
On June 5-6, Venus will pass in front of the sun. It’s called the Venus transit, and it happens only once or twice in a lifetime.
The last transit was in 2004, but folks in Oklahoma couldn’t see it. If you miss this week’s transit, you won’t have a chance to see another. Venus and Earth won’t line up for a transit again until Dec. 10-11, 2117.
The transits generally occur on a 243-year pattern: For 105.5 years, Earth won’t see any transits. Then it will witness two transits over eight years, followed by a 121.5-year dry spell and two transits over the next eight years. Then it repeats: 105.5 years, 8 years, 121.5 years, 8 years. That pattern will continue until the year 2846.
What will you see? Something really cool but not terribly exciting.
Oklahomans, as staff writer Adam Kemp reported last week, should be able to witness about 2.5 hours of the celestial alignment. We’ll see the beginning of the transit and a good chunk of Venus’ passage across the face of the sun. Once night falls, Oklahoma’s view will end.
Over those 2.5 hours, we’ll see a small black dot appear on the sun and slowly move across it. That’s all. A black dot.
Won’t seem like much unless you think about what you’re seeing. That’s a planet, one of Earth’s siblings, that we’ll be able to see without a telescope. Over the course of centuries, our ancestors watched similar transits and divined meaning from them, even though they didn’t realize what exactly they were seeing. Nearly four centuries ago, astronomers used the transits to triangulate the distance between the Earth and the sun, giving them a way to measure the size of our solar system. Human ingenuity operating on a cosmic scale.
I hope humanity will see the transit as I do: a reminder of how vast is the universe and how petty our problems and prejudices. We’re all in this together, those of us on this rocky Earth, this bright blue marble — all together, spinning through space, lonely but amazing. Long after we’re gone, our children and our children’s children will look to the sky and see the same reminder. We are but a moment on this Earth, but space goes on and on.
What are the biggest unsolved mysteries of the cosmos?
That’s what the journal Science [pay site] set out to identify in its current issue.
“To round up some of the most enduring mysteries in the field of astronomy … Science enlisted help from science writers and members of the Board of Reviewing Editors to choose eight puzzling questions being asked by leading astronomers today,” according to the Huffington Post. “As Robert Coontz, deputy news editor at Science, writes in his introduction to the series, the participants decided that, ‘true mysteries must have staying power,’ rather than being questions that might be resolved by research in the near future. In fact, while some of the topics discussed may one day be solved through astronomical observations, others may never be solved.”
Here, in no particular order, are the biggies:
– What is dark energy?
– How hot is dark matter?
– Where are the missing baryons?
– How do stars explode?
– What re-ionized the universe?
– What’s the source of the most energetic cosmic rays?
– Why is our solar system so bizarre?
– Why is the sun’s corona so hot?
To learn more, check out the above sites or go to www.space.com.
NASA has come up with its best estimate of the number of potentially hazardous asteroids in our solar system.
PHAs, as they’re known, are asteroids large enough to survive entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Impacts could cause regional damage or global catastrophes. All of the asteroids pass within 5 million miles of our planet.
How many are there?
More than a few.
The estimate was made based on observations by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The asteroid-hunting portion of the explorer’s duties are called NEOWISE.
“The project samples 107 PHAs to make predictions about the entire population as a whole,” NASA posted today on its website. “Findings indicate there are roughly 4,700 PHAs, plus or minus 1,500, with diameters larger than 330 feet (about 100 meters). So far, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of these objects have been found.”
The website quotes Lindley Johnson, program executive for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observation Program.
“The NEOWISE analysis shows us we’ve made a good start at finding those objects that truly represent an impact hazard to Earth,” he said. “But we’ve many more to find, and it will take a concerted effort during the next couple of decades to find all of them that could do serious damage or be a mission destination in the future.”
Twice as many asteroids as previously thought are in lower-inclination orbits, which could align closely with the Earth’s orbit. That could open the door for interception missions, landing people or robots on their surface.
For more, check out the NASA website.
Welcome to the Oddities blog, where we’ll discuss everything from the Loch Ness monster to quantum physics.
This NewsOK blog will focus on weird-but-real science, folklore, UFO sightings, archeology, speculative technology, astronomy, strange theories, medical advancements, the oceans, “Ancient Aliens” and more. Hopefully we’ll still be around when the Mayan calendar ends.
If you enjoy learning more about the world and cosmos around you, or if you just like to read about the bizarre and unusual, bookmark this site and check back regularly. We plan to keep going until Earth collides with Nibiru/Planet X.
Hope you enjoy it.